Impeachment Probe: Diplomat Says He Knew Why U.S. Aid Withheld

WASHINGTON (AP) -
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland arrives for a interview with the House Committees in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

In a striking reversal, a top diplomat revised his testimony in the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump to acknowledge he understood that U.S. aid to Ukraine was being withheld until the country promised to investigate corruption.

The three-page update from U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, tucked beneath hundreds of pages of sworn testimony released Tuesday, provides new insight into Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate Democrats and Joe Biden in what the Democrats call a quid pro quo at the center of the House inquiry.

Specifically, Sondland said he now recalls telling a top aide to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on the sidelines of a Warsaw meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, that military aid to the country likely would not resume until Ukraine had provided a public anti-corruption statement, as Trump wanted.

Trump has denied any quid pro quo, but Democrats say that is the singular narrative developing from the president’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy. In that call, Trump, asked for “a favor,” the spark for the impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said the House panels conducting the inquiry are releasing the word-by-word transcripts of the past weeks’ closed-door hearings so the American public can decide for themselves.

“This is about more than just one call,” Schiff wrote Tuesday in an op-ed in USA Today. “We now know that the call was just one piece of a larger operation to redirect our foreign policy to benefit Donald Trump’s personal and political interests, not the national interest.”

House investigators released more transcripts Tuesday from Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, and announced they want to hear from Trump’s acting chief of staff, reaching to the highest levels of the White House.

In his revised testimony, Sondland says his memory was refreshed by the opening statements of two other key witnesses who have testified in the impeachment inquiry.

Sondland also told investigators Trump nearly hung up on him when he asked specifically whether the White House was withholding military aid for the investigation.

“I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo,” Trump said, according to Sondland. “I want Zelenskiy to do the right thing.”

Sondland said Trump was in a “bad mood.” The diplomat said, “I wouldn’t say he hung up me, but it was almost like he hung up on me.”

Public hearings could begin as soon as next week in the impeachment inquiry that Trump says is illegitimate and Republicans in Congress call a sham.

The release of more transcripts comes as the Trump administration resumes its stonewalling of the inquiry. Two more White House officials, an energy adviser and a budget official, declined to appear Tuesday before investigators, even after one received a subpoena.

Meanwhile, Investigators say they want to hear from chief of staff Mick Mulvaney because his news conference last month amounted to “nothing less than a televised confession” of Trump’s efforts to have Ukraine investigate Democrats and Biden as the White House was blocking military funding for the Eastern European ally.

Trump says he did nothing wrong, and Mulvaney later walked back his remarks.

The White House has instructed its officials not to comply with the impeachment inquiry being led by House Democrats. It is uncertain if Mulvaney will appear.

Most of those who have testified before the House panel are from the ranks of the State Department, including recalled U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovonavitch, whose testimony was released Monday. Diplomats have testified to the mounting concerns in the State Department over Trump’s interest in having a foreign ally investigate Biden.

Volker and Sondland both testified they were disappointed after briefing Trump at the White House upon their return from Zelenskiy’s inauguration in May as a new leader of the young democracy vowing to fight corruption.

That pivotal May 23 meeting raised red flags when Trump told them to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, on Ukraine issues.

Text messages from the two men, along with another diplomat, William Taylor, who also testified in the impeachment inquiry, revealed in striking detail the administration’s actions toward Ukraine.